OMAHA, Neb. — Dara Torres lingered in the water after the other swimmers had climbed out of the pool.
Her long career was finally over.
She wanted to soak up the moment as long as possible.
The 45-year-old Torres came up short in her bid to make it to the Olympics for a sixth time. She finished fourth in the final of the 50-meter freestyle Monday night, her only event at the U.S. swimming trials.
“This is really over,” Torres said. “That’s it, I’m going to enjoy some time with my daughter, have a nice summer and cheer on the U.S. team.”
After winning three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics, Torres underwent radical knee surgery and put all her hopes into a chaotic dash from one end of the pool to the other. But Jessica Hardy won in 24.50 seconds, while Kara Lynn Joyce took the other Olympic spot in 24.73.
“Obviously I was hoping to make the team,” Torres said. “That was my goal and missing it by less than a tenth of a second is tough, but I don’t think there’s anything I could have changed.”
Torres was denied a trip to London by nine-hundredths of a second, touching behind third-place Christine Magnuson (24.78). Torres smiled when she saw her time (24.82) and hugged both Hardy and Joyce. When Torres finally got out, she began motioning for her daughter, 6-year-old Tessa, to join her.
Torres walked into the stands, still dripping wet, and scooped up Tessa, who was wearing a green shirt that said “Go Mom.”
“She’s bummed she’s not going to London now,” Torres said. “I told her I’d still take her.”
In the last event of the eight-day trials, Andrew Gemmell won the grueling 1,500 freestyle in 14 minutes, 52.19 seconds. Connor Jaeger was right with him all the way, taking the second spot for London in 14:52.51.
Gemmell tried to make the team in open water, but finished third in those trials. He switched to the pool and earned a trip to London.
“I just wanted to treat it like open water, and I knew I had to swim my own race,” he said. “I knew people would be going out faster than me, and I would have to race coming home.”
Torres said she had the same nervous anticipation before her last race as she did at her first U.S. trials in 1984, when she earned a spot in the Los Angeles Games. She had no illusions about being a serious medal contender in London, but she wanted to end her career with one more trip to the Olympics.
“Being 45, getting fourth in Olympic trials against girls almost half my age, it’s OK,” Torres said. “I’m used to winning, but that wasn’t the goal here. The goal was to try to make it. I didn’t quite do it, but I’m really happy with how I did. I was able to hang in there.”
Hardy said it was an honor to compete against Torres, who retired twice but came back to win five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, then three more silvers in Beijing. This time, she’s retiring for good.
“I love racing Dara,” the 25-year-old Hardy said. “I wish she could have made it this year, but swimming with her the past couple years has been really an awesome treat for sure.”
Hardy failed to qualify for the Olympics in her best event, the 100 breaststroke, but she bounced back to win the 100 and 50 freestyle, capping her comeback from a failed doping test that kept her off the team four years ago. An arbitration panel ruled that Hardy was the victim of a tainted supplement.
“Doing so well, winning two races here, I couldn’t have predicted this in a million years,” Hardy said. “I’m so happy and so grateful that this meet went as it did.”
Joyce didn’t even get out of the preliminaries of the 100 free, but she came back in the 50 free to make her third Olympic team.
“I didn’t start out the meet very well,” Joyce said. “I did my best to visualize and prepare my body. It was my one chance to lay it all the line for this 50. I can’t believe I did it.”
Torres was among the big names missing the team.
Katie Hoff, who won three medals in Beijing, failed to qualify. So did four-time Olympian Amanda Beard, Ed Moses, Garrett Weber-Gale and 40-year-old Janet Evans, who came back from a 15-year retirement. Another disappointment was 11-time medalist Natalie Coughlin, who didn’t make any of her individual events and will have to settle for a relay spot.
Torres retires with 12 medals, tied with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female swimmer.
Before she stepped on the blocks, Torres remembered her late coach, Michael Lohberg, who died in 2011 from a rare blood disorder that was diagnosed just before she swam in Beijing.
“I was very emotional before my swim,” Torres said. “When I was putting my suit on with my trainer, Anne Tierney, we started crying because I started thinking about Michael. In July of 2010, he had said to me, ‘Let’s go for this.’ I really wanted to finish the story that I started with him. I didn’t make it but I know he would have been proud.”